I figured the last word had been written on Dutch’s. After all, Spokane’s near-century-old downtown pawnshop and music store will be closing its doors forever at October’s end.
I was wrong.
Turns out there’s an irresistible coda to this story that involves three elements:
The legendary generosity of Dutch’s late owner, Gary Singer; a basement stockpile of 100 used and broken violas, cellos and violins; and one of the planet’s most unique youth music ensembles – the famed Landfill Harmonic of Cateura, Paraguay.
Just days before his unexpected death in February, the 66-year-old Singer decided to give these stringed instruments to the orchestra, which gets hopeless street kids away from drugs, prostitution and crime and into making music.
It’s easy to see why Singer was so smitten.
The orchestra’s young and mostly impoverished players create their instruments out of discarded oil cans, soda bottles and other castoffs gleaned from the local dumps.
“The world sends us garbage … We send back music.”
That’s the motto of this incredible group, which is also known as the “Recycled Orchestra.”
But many of the players continue with their music. They get better and better and eventually need real instruments.
“These kids, I assure you, will definitely make the best out of them (Singer’s gift),” wrote Rodolfo Madero, an executive producer for a documentary about the orchestra, in an email to Dutch’s.
So to recap …
The instruments are ready.
The recipients are ready.
There’s only one hitch, and this is where someone who is reading this can get involved.
Rick Rubin, Dutch’s gifted luthier who is now managing the store, is looking for someone who will donate enough packing items to make this shipment to Paraguay possible.
“We need good, strong boxes that can hold a dozen or more violins each,” he said. “There are about a dozen cellos, which also need boxes. And we need bubble wrap and tape, too.”
(Call Rubin at 509-747-5284 if you’d like to help.)
Credit Rubin for bringing this unlikely cause to Singer’s attention. He had just watched a YouTube video about the “Landfill Harmonic” and was blown away.
“These kids have managed to make music and show musicality with some ridiculously crude instruments,” said Rubin. “They play Bach and Vivaldi. It’s amazing.”
The boss didn’t need much of a sales pitch. Helping people in need was part of Singer’s DNA.
Here in Spokane, Singer was a tireless worker and supporter of the Second Harvest food bank. Ditto Singer’s wife, Mary, who views this gift of instruments as another fitting tribute to her late husband’s memory.
On Wednesday afternoon, Second Harvest remembered the man with a ceremony to commemorate the naming of its warehouse at 1234 E. Front Ave.
The Gary Singer Distribution Center.
Giving 100 stringed instruments to some needy South American musicians is totally in keeping with Gary Singer’s legacy.
Besides, Singer and Rubin talked often over the years about what to do with all the aforementioned violins, etc. The instruments were stacked in a section of Dutch’s sprawling basement that was labeled the “graveyard.”
The instruments, though broken in various ways, are all fixable, said Rubin.
Trouble is, what Singer would have had to pay Rubin to fix each one would have far exceeded the cost of a brand-new basic instrument from, say, China.
These resourceful musicians of Cateura are used to turning oil cans into fiddles. Putting a bridge on a violin should be easier than playing the Minute Waltz in an hour.
In the end, I can only imagine what Singer would have thought about all of this.
While he was alive, he could have been the poster boy for humility. He shunned publicity for his good works, preferring to do them behind the scenes with no fanfare or hoopla.
Now that he’s gone, Dutch’s owner is getting what he deserved.
Rest in peace, Gary.
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